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I searched for "it was no doubt" on Google Books.

The comma-less version is more common.

My instinct, however, tells me that there should be commas since "no doubt" in this case is a parenthetical statement. Is that correct?

Example sentence:

He was, no doubt, his best ally.

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In general, if rephrasing the sentence in one of the following ways has it mean essentially what you want, then use the commas; otherwise, don't.

?He was (no doubt) his best ally.
?He was—no doubt—his best ally.
?He was his best ally.

If any or all of the above communicate the same thing in terms of intonation, pacing, and essential meaning as what you want to say, then use commas:

He was, no doubt, his best ally.

But if none of the rephrased versions sound the way you want, then don't use commas:

He was no doubt his best ally.

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